Criminal charges could arise from Big Dig collapse

| 7/12/2006

Massachusetts Attorney General Tom Reilly said Tuesday, July 11, that negligent homicide charges could be filed following the collapse of a section of a tunnel in Boston’s Big Dig project that left one woman dead.

Milena Del Valle, 38, was killed Monday, July 10, when four three-ton sections of concrete fell from a ceiling near the entrance to the Ted Williams Tunnel and crushed the car in which she was riding. The driver of the car escaped with minor injuries.

The Associated Press reported that Reilly’s office has begun issuing subpoenas to those involved in the design, manufacturing, testing, construction and oversight of the panels and the tunnel.

Meanwhile, Gov. Mitt Romney said his office is taking legal action to remove Matt Amorello, the head of the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, which oversees the Big Dig project.

In addition to state investigations, The AP reported that an ongoing federal investigation into the project is now turning its attention to the tunnel collapse.

U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan told The AP that the investigation from his office – which brought fraud charges against six men who worked for the project’s largest concrete supplier earlier this year – will now focus on the section of the tunnel where the collapse occurred.

Though the men were charged with shipping 5,000 loads of sub-par concrete used in the project, preliminary investigations indicated that weak concrete was not a factor in the collapse.

Amorello said in a press conference Tuesday that the ceiling collapse was caused by a steel tieback giving way. The tiebacks are used to hold the 40-foot ceiling sections in place. Amorello said one of the tiebacks snapped, causing one panel to release. When the first one fell, it caused several others to fall. That portion of the ceiling was built in 1999, according to The AP.

The $14 billion project – which buried portions of Interstates 93 and 90 beneath downtown Boston and extended the Massachusetts Turnpike to Logan Airport – has been plagued with problems for years, including leaks, faulty concrete and political scandals among those involved in its management.